“Volleyball U” is living up to its name once again.
Long Beach State confirmed a deal with the NCAA earlier this week that will see the university host three NCAA championships over three years from 2024-2026. The Walter Pyramid will play host to the men’s volleyball NCAA Final Four in 2024, and the school will host the NCAA Beach Volleyball championships in 2025 and 2026 in a temporary venue that will be built on the beach where the AVP and FIVB have hosted events recently.
“I’m thrilled,” said LBSU athletic director Andy Fee. “We have a community that loves volleyball and has a great tradition on the indoor court and on the beach. We have a great record of successful events, and this is another great opportunity to showcase a great community and a great university.”
The application process was much different than LBSU’s successful bid to host the NCAA men’s volleyball championships in 2019, which the Beach successfully won over Hawaii. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the whole application process was digital, requiring Fee’s staff to unite the Long Beach Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, the mayor’s office, and local youth programs virtually for the presentation.
“I think we proved in our last hosting opportunity with a sold-out event that we can do a top class job, with the banquet downtown,” said Fee. “We want it to be an experience that they will never forget, one that will be compared like, ‘Hey did you see how Long Beach did it?’ We want these kids to feel like champions.”
It’s another piece of great news for Alan Knipe’s men’s volleyball program, which are still the defending NCAA champions after beating Hawaii in the Pyramid in 2019, since the 2020 season was shut down. The Beach also had this year’s top recruiting class, with a talented group of athletes who will be seniors when the program gets to host the Final Four again in 2024.
It could be perfect timing once more, after the last sensational group of athletes including TJ DeFalco, Josh Tuaniga, and Kyle Ensing won in 2019 as seniors.
“Hosting it in 24 so soon after hosting in 19 is a huge validation to the efforts of the athletic department and the presidents’ office,” said Knipe.
Knipe has been a longtime believer in the city’s potential as a major volleyball hub. When he coached the United States Olympic men’s volleyball team he brought Olympic qualifying international matches to the Pyramid, all of which sold out.
“It’s a highly educated and passionate community, but also geographically it’s a great place in SoCal because it’s central,” said Knipe. “The crowds always come out to support good volleyball. I feel very proud that we’ve been part of this.”
The beach volleyball national championships in 2025 and 2026 are a significant departure for the NCAA, which has hosted all of its previous championships in that sport in Gulf Shores, Alabama. The plan is for it to be just like the AVP and FIVB events with a party atmosphere and a raucous crowd.
“There will be peripheral events going on with music and everything,” said Fee. “We want it to be focused on winning on the beach but we want families to come out and have a total experience to watch the best of the best and then walk away going, ‘How much fun was that?’”
The tournament will employ multiple venues split between Long Beach’s shore and the Huntington Beach Pier.
The news is also heartening for Knipe and other members of the city’s volleyball community. Because of the pandemic’s massive effect on college revenues, it’s been a dicey time for so-called “non-revenue” or Olympic sports. Stanford recently dropped it’s men’s volleyball program, and others are threatened across the country.
“This is gratifying to hear the commitment from our school,” said Knipe. “It’s a very difficult time for our sport, it’s heartbreaking. It gives you a significantly greater appreciation for our community and Andy and president Conoley for being so invested in us and our kids.”